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McIlroy focused on Masters challenge

updated 11:30 AM EDT, Wed April 3, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rory McIlroy is paying no attention to his critics heading into the Masters
  • The world No. 2 has endured a troubled 2013 since switching to Nike clubs
  • He has been replaced at the top of the world rankings by Nike stablemate Tiger Woods
  • The 2013 Masters at Augusta begins on April 11

(CNN) -- Rory McIlroy says he's not listening to any of his critics in the buildup to the Masters, as the world No. 2 reflects on his troubled start to 2013.

The Northern Irishman missed the cut at January's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship after announcing a deal with sponsor Nike which could see him earn as much as $250 million.

McIlroy followed that by walking off the course at the Honda Classic a month ago before apologizing, having struggled to produce his best golf with a new set of clubs.

That stuttering start to the season prompted the 23-year-old to change his schedule -- pulling out of a charity event -- to unexpectedly play this week in the Valero Texas Open, citing the need for more practice ahead of the year's first major at Augusta.

Read: McIlroy explains Haiti decision

"No one knows what I'm trying to do more than me," he told CNN's Living Golf in an exclusive interview.

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"There was a lot of hype at the start of the year obviously with the switch to Nike, coming off the back of such a great year last year. It's nice now everything's settled down a bit.

"I know what I'm doing. And I know what I'm working on the course. Of course you see some things sometimes, but you try just to block it out and try, I guess, to have faith in what you're doing."

McIlroy was intending to be in Haiti this week as part of his role as a UNICEF ambassador, but the two-time major winner took the advice of his caddy J.P. Fitzgerald and traveled to San Antonio to play more competitive golf ahead of the Masters.

"I decided after my second round in Houston last week," explained McIlroy.

Blog: Putting key to Tiger's revival

"My caddy mentioned it to me and I took a moment to think about it. And I thought it was the best thing to get ready for the Masters."

McIlroy's play was patchy at Houston, and he laughed as he recalls hitting the ball in the water 10 times.

But he was also the longest driver in the PGA Tour tournament, and the seventh best putter. He finished tied for 45th, 12 shots adrift of winner D.A. Points.

Resurgent Woods

McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship, readily admits such play will not be good enough to prosper this year -- especially given the form of a certain player who has just knocked him off the top of the world rankings.

"Tiger's played great golf this year," said McIlroy of his new Nike stablemate and 14-time major winner Tiger Woods.

"It was coming. You could see last year he was getting very close. He won three times last year as well.

"He's been putting very well, which is a big key, and if he putts like that for the rest of the season he's going to be very difficult to beat."

After Texas, for which McIlroy made the deadline to enter by just half an hour, he heads to Augusta -- where he will seek to win his first coveted green jacket.

At the 2011 Masters, McIlroy missed out on the first major win of his career as he threw away a four-shot lead in the fourth and final round.

"It's still the same," he said. "It might not be quite the same as the first time I went down but you still get a special feeling, a special excitement when you drive down Magnolia Lane. It's just a different atmosphere to anything in golf."

His excitement will be more than matched by golf fans should the Masters turn into a showdown between McIlroy and a resurgent Woods.

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